White Starbucks Manager Who Ran Philly Store Where Two Black Men Were Refused Access to Bathroom Is Awarded $25M
James Gant, Daily Mail, June 14, 2023
A white Starbucks manager who was fired when her staff refused to let two black men use the bathroom at a Philadelphia store has been awarded $25.6million.
Shannon Phillips on Monday won her lawsuit against the coffee giant and was handed $25million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages.
A federal jury in New Jersey found the company had given her the boot because she was white, which violated her civil rights.
The lawsuit finally came to an end this week five years after the arrests of the two black men at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson had been waiting for a meeting when they were refused access to the toilet and were asked to leave before cops were called.
Their arrests prompted widespread outrage and protests after footage of the incident emerged – and Starbucks was accused of racism and boycott threats.
Ms Phillips, who oversaw the location as well as about 100 others and would have been paid up to $200,000, was quickly fired but in 2019 sued the coffee chain claiming it was due to racial bias.
Following her victory on Monday her lawyer Laura Carlin Mattiacci said they were ‘very pleased’ with the unanimous verdict.
She said that ‘she proved by ‘clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages were warranted’ under the New Jersey law.
In the lawsuit, Ms Phillips – who worked for Starbucks for 13 years – claimed she had nothing to do with the arrests but was still fired from her job a month later.
Cell phone footage of the arrests went viral after it showed Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson being detained inside the store after they sat without ordering anything.
The arrests sparked protests and prompted more than 8,000 locations to shut so the company’s 175,000 employees could undergo racial-bias training.
Ms Phillips said she worked ‘tirelessly’ to help repair community relations in the wake of the controversy, according to the lawsuit.
In her role as regional manager, Phillips said she oversaw around 100 stores across Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
She claimed Starbucks started punishing white employees who weren’t involved weeks later in a bid to publicly prove they were handling the incident.
Ms Phillips alleges the firm ordered her to put a white male manager, who had worked for the company for 15 years, on administrative leave because of a race discrimination allegation against him.
The allegation was based on complaints non-white employees at that manager’s store were paid less than white workers.
Ms Phillips said she argued the male manager didn’t have a say in wages. The lawsuit also said Ms Phillips objected to suspending him because she said the manager wasn’t racist and she had never seen him exhibit discriminatory behavior.
She argued, in comparison, the black manager of the store where the arrests were carried out did not face any disciplinary action.
Ms Phillips said the black manager’s subordinate was the one who called 911 after the two men sat down and refused to leave after being told they couldn’t use the bathroom without purchasing something.
She claims she was fired soon after and told the ‘situation is not recoverable’. Starbucks denied the claims in the lawsuit but has not commented on the outcome.
The two black men ended up reaching a settlement with Starbucks in the aftermath for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education.
Separately, they reached a deal with the city for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.
‘We thought long and hard about it, and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,’ Mr Robinson said at the time.
‘It’s not a right-now thing that’s good for right now, but I feel like we will see the true change over time.’
The men said they were at the Starbucks location waiting for a meeting with a third man about a potential real estate opportunity.
No charges were ever filed against them following their arrest. The incident proved a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long projected an image as a socially-conscious company.
During the uproar, then Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson went to Philadelphia to apologize to the men.
He also ordered more than 8,000 stores in the US to close so 175,000 workers could get training in unconscious bias.